Israel Has to Choose: Mideast Peace or Apartheid

The choice is not between Hamas and Israel; the choice is between settlement-colonies or states: between accepting two states with the 1967 border or maintaining an apartheid regime.

Saeb Erekat
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Saeb Erekat

Having all Palestinian political factions come together for national reconciliation was an emotional experience for all Palestinians who witnessed the events taking place in Cairo. The Arab Spring has finally reached Palestine. The left, the religious right, and the nationalist camp across the Palestinian political spectrum with the support of the new Egyptian government, reached an agreement to establish a technocratic administration in order to hold elections within one year and rebuild the Gaza Strip. This is a critical step in our path toward freedom and independence.

This ceremony was a representation of the will of our people. After the reconciliation ceremony, a young boy from Gaza was reported to have said, I call on Fatah, Hamas and the rest of the factions to march hand in hand toward independence, to open and build our country. From the mouths of babes come the most simple and powerful sentiments. In this case, that sentiment represents those of Palestinians everywhere, from Chile to Lebanon.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in a file photo.Credit: Dan Keinan

As President Mahmoud Abbas said in Cairo, with the establishment of a government of national unity, we will have closed one of the darkest periods in the history of our people.

Palestinians are looking forward now. We will continue to work hard on gaining international recognition for the State of Palestine in the 1967 border with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Today, we have received such recognition from 112 countries. The latest vote in the UN Security Council calling for an end to settlement expansion (14 countries voting in favor and the United States against) shows unprecedented support for the Palestinian position: The Israeli occupation of Palestinian land must end.

Under the leadership of President Abbas, we are concluding the process of building Palestinian institutional capacities. According to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations and the European Union, Palestine has reached a point where it is ready to take the reins of state. Only the Israeli occupation stands in the way of our progress.

In September 2011, a united Palestinian people will go to the United Nations to request that the State of Palestine be admitted as a full member of the UN. It is time for Israel to stop denying freedom to the Palestinian people. We deserve to live free just like all other peoples in the world. Our message is very simple: The Palestinian people will not remain hostage to Israeli intransigence and unilateralism; settler violence and expansion are not going to stop us.

National reconciliation will also re-energize and empower our nonviolent struggle for justice and peace. We have been inspired by the determination shown weekly by young Palestinians and Israelis, Europeans and Americans, demonstrating together every Friday against the Israeli occupation policies in dozens of places, from Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan to Bilin and Nabi Saleh.

So as we continue our efforts at uniting our people and building our state, we call on Israel not to interfere in domestic Palestinian politics. Israelis are free to elect whomever they choose to represent them, whether they be from the peace or the anti-peace camp. We have respected their choice by negotiating with every single Israeli government since 1991, including with the current Israeli coalition government, not a single member of which recognizes Palestinian national rights.

The choice is not between Hamas and Israel, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has suggested. The choice is between settlement-colonies or states: between accepting two states with the 1967 border outlining the shape of the future for Israelis and Palestinians where real peace is possible, or maintaining an apartheid regime that will define our relationship with Israelis as one of oppressor and oppressed. We have clearly made our choice; we are waiting for Israel to do the same.

Only days before our national reconciliation, Prime Minister Netanyahu complained to the international community regarding the lack of a unified Palestinian government. He asked, Shall I make peace with Gaza or with the West Bank? To Netanyahu we can now reply, You shall make peace with the State of Palestine. Netanyahu may persist to find excuses why he will not negotiate in good faith with us, and we will persist to take our case to the United Nations.

Gaza is not to be regained by bullets but by the ballot box. The way to peace is through reconciliation and democracy. I hope that Israelis and the international community will stand shoulder to shoulder with us in order to support peace and reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis by ending the Israeli occupation and consolidating a sovereign Palestinian state in the 1967 border.

The writer is the chief Palestinian negotiator.